by Julie L. Cannon
I tug on my yellow rubber gloves and read the directions on the back of the jug - “Apply in a thin layer to vinyl and wait 15 minutes. Scrub thoroughly.” Grabbing my sponge mop I begin this chore I’ve been putting off too long. What’s good is that hopefully, this will remove ten years worth of unsightly yellow Mop & Glo buildup while leaving my brain free to meditate on Man Martin’s suggested blog topic - What catastrophic mistakes have you made either in your writing or your career and what did you learn from them?
I call my husband as I am beginning my application in the corner where the phone is. I ask Tom, “What mistakes have I made in my writing career?” He takes great delight in giving me an earful about an obsessive-compulsive trait of mine which is the root of the second stupidest blunder of my writing career. Now that he’s filled my ear, and now that a major portion of vinyl is coated, I set my timer for fifteen minutes and head to the computer.
First I’ll share one mistake that’s always on tap. The dumbest thing I did, something that’s still following me around, is I negotiated the contract for my first book all by myself. No agent, no lawyer. Stars were in my eyes and I didn’t see the unfavorable option clauses which have tied up my livelihood for years. What I’ve learned from this blunder is that ideally, I should have found an agent who not only was head-over-heels in love with my work, but who would have negotiated a good and smart deal for me. An author’s first book sets the tone for his/her career in so many ways I don’t have the space to tell it all here. A savvy agent can steer you and your manuscript and your career in the right direction. I make it a point to tell students in my various writing workshops; “Don’t dare sign a thing until you’ve had a professional who is on your side read it over. You absolutely must have an agent who is well-versed in book contracts.”
Now for my husband’s idea of what I did wrong. I spent entirely too much time fretting over promotion for my first two novels, and not enough time with my fanny in the chair and my fingers on the keyboard. The minute those books were ‘released’ I became possessed, frantic. I poured over books on marketing, studied the internet about promotional strategies, obsessed on sales figures. It was as if the hawking, the selling was my all-consuming focus, and if I had any time left over, then maybe, if I wasn’t too exhausted, I would write a bit of fiction. I thought if I appeared on enough radio stations, sent galleys to enough magazines, talked to enough book clubs, drove to enough bookstores, mailed out enough bookmarks, appeared in enough parades as the Tomato Queen, I could generate sales and catapult my wares to bestsellerdom.
I remember what this little old lady said to me at one of my book events way back – “Honey, you just need to write more of your sweet stories.” I think I was dressed like a tomato queen and passing out tomato seeds in packets that looked like the book cover of Truelove & Homegrown Tomatoes.
Do you think she had a copy of Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel on her nightstand next to her dentures and her Ladies Home Journal? What Donald says really sells books is . . . are you ready? . . . the magic of “word of mouth.” He claims it’s what’s between the covers that sells our books. We just have to write a compelling book.
The challenge is that writing well takes time, lots of it. I can’t be constantly running all around the country trying to generate enthusiasm and hand-selling my books. I must focus my best energies, my biggest enthusiasm on the actual writing. It took Noah around 98 years to build the Ark, and I believe that to write a compelling story I need to stick to a plan that includes laying a good structural foundation. I must study the mechanics of good writing. So, instead of books on marketing, I read lots of ‘How-To’ books, and I study the bones of best sellers. I am eager to continually improve my craft, take my fiction to a deeper level. I want my stories to grip my readers’ imaginations in a way that will engender that critical ‘word-of-mouth’ element that sells books.
There are plenty more mistakes I have made along this writing journey. But it’s time to go snap back on my rubber gloves and add some elbow grease to that stripper. Then it is time to write.
Julie L. Cannon lives and writes off of Hog Mountain Road in Watkinsville, Georgia. Her latest release is I'll Be Home for Christmas. Her next novel, Twang, will be out in September 2011. Visit her website at http://www.juliecannon.info/ to learn more about Julie and her books.